365 Days of Blogging: Personal Writing Challenge ACCEPTED

I woke up late on New Year’s Day and thought about this blog and about being a writer and all of the things that that means. I want writing to be a daily habit (it nearly is). Why not challenge myself to write a blog post a day for the next 365 days? Make 2015 my Year of Blogging Dangerously? accepted2

I debated keeping it to myself, but if I post it, maybe that will keep me honest. :D

So there you go, Internet. I am unleashing my inner authorly Kraken.

Brace yourselves! IMG_4589 IMG_4766 IMG_4904

My Top 10 NaNoWriMo Survival Tactics

Over the hump now . . . April 30 is growing closer, and my snowmobile story WIP is steadily approaching its (as yet, undetermined) climax. Some nights are harder to keep it going than others. So I thought I’d review for you (and me) the things I do when the going gets tough!

1) Build a word count buffer. Whenever you can, write over / beyond your minimum number for the day, so that if there’s ever a time where you’re not able to get to the project, your overall movement won’t be affected as much.

2) Take a break! Sometimes, you have to have a night off. See 1) above. The tricky part, though, is not letting that break go longer than 24 hours. At that point, it’s like going back to the gym after you’ve just started a membership and promised yourself you’d go every day and then stopped after a week. The effort of starting again feels incredibly daunting. Keep the breaks short so you don’t lose momentum on the work.

3) Accept inspiration from the strangest of places. Seriously — I get ideas from the weirdest things. Sometimes it’s from taking a walk and seeing someone outside of my regular routine. Sometimes it’s from listening to music, or talking out plot problems with a fellow writer. Just go with it!

4) Scenic Route over Efficiency. There’s nothing wrong with going off-roading with the plot. I start with a plan, but when I see a detour and a possibly better / more interesting plot point, I totally go for it, enjoying the element of mystery and surprise. Of course, that means I don’t really know what the climax will be, but I still have the end goal in mind. Buy the ticket for the long way ’round, because as the song says, it’s got the prettiest of views!

5) Fill your family and friends in. I honestly wouldn’t be able to do this without my kids’ understanding, my hubby’s back rubs (even though they’re not nearly as long as I’d like them to be), and the acceptance that my attention for this month is very much on the story. Once your near and dear ones know what you’re up to, they can also offer suggestions and act as beta-readers. BTW, it’s a heck of a lot easier doing NaNoWriMo now that my kids are old enough to feed themselves!

6) Treat yourself. Those back rubs, and cups of tea, and bits of leftover Easter chocolate — soul food. Nourishment for the creative soul. Whatever it takes to keep your spirits up in the depths of plot problems and character disagreements, do it.

7) You can sleep when you’re dead. Sleep. Especially if you have a full-time paid job. I mean, if I was working from home, or doing the unpaid work of parenthood, it would be easier to slip in those naps than it currently is — I’m limited at the moment to catching a few z’s after school, and occasionally when I’m desperate and the coffee’s either worn off or hasn’t kicked in yet, I’ll lie on the couch that’s conveniently found a home in my classroom for twenty minutes of shut-eye. But you have to sleep. It’s right when you’re trying to fall asleep that your stupid brain will come up with the greatest plot twist or snappy dialogue.

8) Write in a group of writers. For me, that means involving my students! We have had increasingly productive writing days this week, comfortably sitting together in a computer lab. It’s been my privilege to hear them to comparing their word counts, discussing their characters and plot problems, sharing mind-blowing moments and reading out bits they particularly enjoyed putting together, and to share my own writerly discoveries and problems as well. Writers helping writers. Fantastic!

9) Find your space / time relativity. For me, it has to be after the kids have gone to bed, so I’m not distracted by commentary or questions. I do frequently start shortly before bedtime, in an effort to avoid being awake until midnight (hah!), and that’s when I get the loving kisses and hugs and tea and things. I do miss having my laptop to work from so I can be comfy on the couch, but sitting at the desk is helpful, too — I can’t look directly at the TV, for example, so I’m less tempted to have it on. Now, if only I could get the right proportion of desk height to chair . . .

10) Eyes on the prize! It can and does become daunting at times, and exhausting, to keep going on a writing project when you don’t know what is going to happen next, and especially when it’s on a topic that is out of your normal range of experience. But I think that doing 50,000 words in 30 days is getting a little easier, now and then. The main thing is to remember that what is being written doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be completed. A little bit at a time accomplishes so much!

Feel free to add your own writing survival tactics in the comments below!

Allergy Season Strikes Again! And I go to bed.

With the retreat of the snow (FINALLY!!!!) and the rise of the piles of winter doggy leavings, comes my old nemesis.

It’s the beginning of allergy season.

I feel it in my sinuses, tight and swollen and sore and congested. It’s in my eyes, sore and dry. I feel it in the tingling of the roof of my mouth, and in the tickling of my ears. The pollen is flowing, and so is my nose.

If it weren’t so physically draining (which is, in turn, mentally draining), I would try not to mind. But not even coffee can help me now. Only sleep. Precious, restful sleep.

I passed the halfway point in my WIP last night, and Adam is in an awkward position that I need to resolve. But my bed . . . it’s so soft, and warm, and welcoming. It feels like the pressure in my sinuses is drawing me to my comfy pillows, like — well, I guess I can’t say anything regarding magnets or moths because those aren’t great comparisons to make with one’s nasal cavity. But if I could walk through walls, I’d be gravitating to my bed right now.

So that is what I shall do. No word count for tonight. Adam will simply have to remain in his holding pattern, and I’ll have to catch up tomorrow.

Oh, gods . . . and do my marks for the mid-term report cards, due Monday. (sob)

The struggle in naming your great work of words…

Fellow writers, how do you choose the titles of your work?

I can’t keep calling my WIP the Snowmobile Story, you see. I’ve gotten to know Adam and made him suffer through so much, throwing him into this predicament and that — I feel like, at this juncture, I need a real working title.

A few years ago, when I was developing the Talbot Trilogy, a friend who was a former student suggested a formula she’d determined for finding a title. It involved looking for frequently used nouns, selecting the first or third or fifth word on page x, and seeing what sounded good from some combination of these things. At the time, it worked for me, but I didn’t write the concept down. If my description sounds vague, that’s because I cannot recall exactly what she said or what I did. So I’m back at square one for this novel.

I thought, for a while, that I’d just leave the title until the end. At that point, perhaps a quote would stand out for me, or a brilliant idea would burst forth from my weary brain, announcing itself with fireworks and fanfare. Maybe that will still happen, but until that time, I would like to come up with something a little more interesting and motivating — something that the growing draft deserves.

After all, it’s not a short story at this point, it’s midway to becoming a short novel. And it’s being prepared for an audience.

Sometimes, I find that having a beta reader go through a finished draft helps me out, because she or he (sorry, gentlemen, it’s usually a “she”) might suggest something better to call it than the title I’m using. I’m very open to suggestions.

So when it comes to titles, what do you do about them? Do you use a formula of some kind, or wait for inspiration? Start with a great title and write the story that belongs to it?

Emotional Whiplash?

I’m in the thick of it now, in all things.

In my WIP, I am close to the halfway point, and remembered that i’d neglected some small but significant details in the most recent rising action. Adding those in — giving my protagonist a much-needed sling for his broken arm, and leaving his helmet where he could pick it up later — pushed my daily word count up and over the hump of 24,000 words. It feels rather like reaching the landing on a tall set of stairs, like climbing the Temagami Tower. Every step forward is more and more an accomplishment, and also scary as hell. Is it going to work? Am I going to find a suitable climax? Will I know who the skeleton belongs to, and who my protagonist has been talking to all this time?

My edits on Crystal and Wand are now in the hands of my publisher, and I need to push forward on promotions. Thinking of organizing a book release party in late May or early June, but the prices of the location I want are making me cringe, slightly. So many expenses are coming: the field trip to Ottawa in three weeks, registration for my son’s soccer team, day camp, and referee course, hubby’s trip to the Shriner convention, Bridget’s guitar lessons, and travelling to Montreal to drop the boy off and pick him up again after a week of Space Camp. If I do a release party, I’ll have to preorder a load of print copies — not just the final book of the trilogy, but the others as well, topping everything up so I have some tidy stacks. Swag needs updating and replenishing, too.

This evening, I also attended the Grade 8 Parent Information Night, in preparation for my son to enter high school in the fall. It’s occurred to me over the last few weeks that not only is Jack heading into grade 9 in six months or so — we have about five years to go, and then he’ll be off to post-secondary somewhere. And Bridget is nearly 5 years behind him. That means a bare ten years of children at home, and then we’ll be back to an empty nest, except on holidays, perhaps.

I feel like I’m developing emotional whiplash.

Musings on what influences the setting / environment of a story

When you have to go to the bathroom particularly badly, the sound of running water is the last thing you need or want to hear. (Well, unless you’re in the woods and will be needing to wash your hands afterward. Or if you are in a public restroom and require a little sensory input — a little encouragement — before starting the flow.)

Went for a walk yesterday, and the sound of running water was the sweetest thing I’d heard in a long time. Months, actually.

Today, raindrops pattering and splashing added themselves to the symphony that is nature waking up. Cold and damp, sure, but a welcome change of pace. Rain helps the melt to hurry itself along. It’s not perfect timing — a highway just a few hours to the south was washed out — but I’ll take the rain over more snow.

Fellow writers, do you find that it’s easier to write scenes that take place in certain weather conditions or climates if you actually live in or visit those conditions? Or is it easier to research and rely on imagination?

For example, a few summers ago while I was working on Blood and Fire, I was doing a lot of the writing in the summer, basking in the heat of the sun and enjoying the scents and colours of my backyard. It was fun, at that time, to think back on the winter. Nostalgic, even. Romantic, too. But the snowmobiling story I’m currently working on also takes place in winter, and as we’re just coming out of it, I feel as though I’m rather venting my weariness of being cold and snowbound. In fact, I find myself wondering why I didn’t decide to write about being some place hot and tropical, if only for the temporary mind-escape.

I do think that writers should travel as much as possible, especially when researching a locale, in order to get a real sense of a place and be authentic in sensory details and description, but how many of us can afford to do that? More often than not, imagination and research in the old-fashioned way has to stand-in for hopping a plane or driving the distance to the setting of the book. That can be frustrating in some ways. I read about writers who get to travel, and I feel more than a little pen-envy, but such is life, right?

Here’s another thought: if you can’t afford to travel, and you don’t want to research a place, is it cheating a little bit to set a story in your own regional backyard?

Of course, that leads me to wonder whether we really choose the stories we’re telling. On some metaphysical level, sometimes I feel like the stories are already out there, waiting for the right teller or writer to latch onto them or provide a conduit. And therefore, deciding to write about a place you’ve never experienced previously becomes less of a choice and more of a commitment. A journey, even if it’s in words alone.

I don’t know if I’m making any sense. I’m very tired and going to bed shortly. But as I’ve been working on this snowmobile story for Camp NaNoWriMo, changing the original timing from February to March and as I said, using my current combination of animosity toward and enjoyment of winter to fuel the setting and plot, I find myself wondering how differently this might compose itself had I started it in June or July, sitting in my backyard, rather than buried behind four walls and waiting out the siege of ice and snow.

The Slings and Arrows of Editing

One of the frustrations of editing is having to acknowledge one’s own limitations and, at times, failings in communicating the images you’ve seen in your head to the reader. I’m struggling through the last edits of Crystal and Wand, accepting that certain parts need to be cut and others need to be clarified. It’s gotten easier since my first editing experience four (or was it five?) years ago, but there’s always a level of difficulty in refining and directing my diction.

Last night, I had a nightmare that included facing problems with edits in my writing. I sometimes wish that I could sit down with my editor to go over the work together, the way I do with my students when I have time. But my editor is in Minnesota, and I don’t think that either of us has the time to go through the manuscript over Skype.

I’ll carry on the best I can. I’m determined to complete these edits tonight and be done with them.

In the meantime, don’t forget to take a peek at the cover reveal for Crystal and Wand, and leave a comment for your chance to win signed copies of all three books in the Talbot Trilogy.

Cover Reveal and Giveaway! Enter by commenting…

Ladies and gentlemen and those in between, I present to you the cover for my upcoming release, the third and final instalment of the Talbot Trilogy:

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I’m so thrilled and pleased with this design by Caroline Andrus — it says everything about the power of the women in this book.

To celebrate, I’m offering a giveaway of the full trilogy, signed print copies of Wind and ShadowBlood and Fire, and Crystal and Wand, to be sent to the winner as soon as the print copy is available. Comment below over the next seven days, and I’ll make the draw on Saturday next week!

And if you need a reminder of what the book’s about, here are the blurb and an excerpt:

Lovers reunite, and are torn apart. Bloodthirsty fiends battle for control of an army of the undead. With the community of Talbot frozen under layers of ice and snow, the domination of the vampire coven seems certain, but in the eye of the storm, the witches and the vampire hunters search desperately for the means to bring an end to the violence that threatens to take over more than one small, sleepy town. Will Rayvin and Charlotte be able to work together, combining their skills in magick, to prevent the loss of more innocent lives?

He swiveled her stretcher around and rolled her into another room nearby, connected by a sliding door. Here, she saw a massive bed covered in white silk sheets, fur rugs and tables covered with candles. There was even a mirror on the ceiling. She recoiled, tugging feverishly and uselessly against her bonds.

Instead of taking her to the bed as she feared, he pulled again to the right, and stopped her in front of a bank of six small flatscreen TVs. The views changed every ten seconds or so, until he tapped a few keys on a small black keyboard. Then, each TV focused on the hospital lobby, where Grant and Malcolm sat glaring at each other below the hidden camera.

“I have eyes and ears all over this hospital, Rayvin,” he told her seriously. “I knew you were here the minute you showed up. I honestly kept expecting Grant to figure it out and come charging down here, but guess what? The wolf-man’s got a stuffy nose!” Jason snorted and pressed another few buttons.

The lower right flatscreen changed to a time-stamped view of the lobby, reversing its recording until Charlotte, Marcy, and Siobhan were walking backward into the room and facing the men. Here, Jason paused the video. He drew up a black leather office chair and sat in it, his arms folded.

“Where do you suppose they were going, Ray?” He mused, tilting his head back and forth. “You don’t think Malcolm de Sade, the dethroned and disillusioned, spilled a little secret to your band of allies, do you? Something about the Talbot Classic Theatre?”

Rayvin pulled so hard at one of the cuffs that she felt her skin chafing under its padding.

“I don’t know why you all think I’m so stupid. I know, Rayvin. I know about the vampire hunters from that stupidly named Society. S.H.I.P.—really? That makes no sense at all.” He got up and walked around the viewing screens. She heard a refrigerator door open, and when he came back around, he was sucking on a bag of plasma like it was a slushie.

Her stomach clamped at the sight, which made a little more of her own blood leak out and the after-pains surge once more.

“You’re really very tempting, you know. The smell of fresh blood is driving me nuts. You don’t mind if I eat in front of you, right?” He flopped back into his chair, clicking buttons again. The camera zoomed into the women’s faces, frozen on the screen. “You’re now wondering how I know about all this. Don’t worry, in a few minutes you’ll find out. I have a very reliable source.”

“So they’re walking into a trap, aren’t they?” Rayvin found her voice at last. “The Classic. You have people waiting for them there, don’t you?” It was really more of a statement than a question, but Jason nodded slowly in answer, still sucking on his snack.

She wanted to tell him something brave. She wanted to defy him, announcing that Marcy, Siobhan, and Charlotte wouldn’t fall for it, that they’d sense their enemies before the trap was sprung. Grant would sense her peril at any moment and come to her rescue. But the words dried up in her throat, and her eyes welled with tears. She turned her face away, willing herself to get back in control.

“Okay, I think that’s it.”

She heard Jason toss the empty plastic bag into a wastebasket. He turned her stretcher once more, so quickly it made her dizzy again, and pushed her back past the fish tank and his nurse shark, all the way to the hallway.

“I’m tired, Rayvin. You’ve got me up past my bedtime. I interrupted my sleep to play host for you, but I need to go back to dreamland for a bit. Thank god for the short days of winter, eh?” He chuckled, whisking her down another hallway. This one was lined with cinderblocks and unpainted wooden and steel doors. “I’ve watched enough movies to know what mistakes to avoid as the villain, but at the same time, I understand why the dastardly fiend needs to draw out the moment rather than ending it quickly. There’s so much pleasure in just relishing satisfaction, you know? So I’ve got my cameras ready, because I’m really exhausted and I can’t keep my eyes open much longer.”

He brought her to a stop next to a door marked “Boiler Room”.

And then he pulled a knife out of his pocket.

“It’s been more than ten years, Rayvin, since you paralyzed me and left me to rot in my chair.” Jason leaned over until his face was even with hers. He whipped off his patch to let her see the whole of his ruined eye. “And a couple of weeks ago, your boyfriend maimed me for the remainder of my after-life. So I’m thinking Code of Hammurabi. Remember, from Intro to Law?”

He shifted her body with one hand, reached under the blankets with his knife, and forced it deeply into her lower back. She shuddered and shrieked, the pain in her womb eclipsed by the agony of her muscles and tissue shredding. He sawed back and forth, cutting at her spine. She arched her back, trying to get away, screaming.

Something inside her gave way, snapping apart, and then for the second time in four hours, she blacked out.

Once again, comment below over the next seven days, and I’ll make the draw for a complete signed set of the Trilogy novels on Saturday next week!